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Thousands of Yazidi people flee after clashes between Iraqi army and militia forces.

Thousands of Yazidi civilians have fled Iraq’s Sinjar district to seek refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region following fierce clashes between the Iraqi army and Yazidi militia forces. The army has used heavy weapons, helicopters and war planes in the assault.

Violence erupted on Sunday when Iraqi troops mounted an offensive to cleanse the region of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) and has intensified and spread, reviving Yazidi trauma from the 2014 genocide they suffered at the hands of Islamic State extremists.

Yazidi spiritual leader Ali Alyas called on both sides to avoid involving cities and towns and “resort to the language of dialogue to end the skirmishes”, reported the Kurdish website Rudaw.

Deputy governor of the Kurdish Duhok province Majid Said Salih told Rudaw that preparations had been made to settle hundreds of Yazidi families in camps. Some 200,000 displaced Yazidis remain in the Kurdish region, many of them in camps where they live in poverty.

Yazidi activist and 2018 Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad called on the international community to intervene as recent returnees have “once again [been] forced to flee their homes”. While a prisoner of Islamic State, also known as Isis, Ms Murad, then 21, was beaten, burned with cigarettes and repeatedly raped before escaping and mounting a campaign against sexual slavery and trafficking.

The YBS was formed in 2007 with the assistance of the separatist Turkish Worker’s Party (PKK) to protect the Yazidis from Sunni Arab insurgents, while their opponents in the current clashes belong to the majority Shia Iraqi army.

Non-Muslim minority

The ethnic-Kurd Yazidis are a non-Muslim minority persecuted by Arab and Kurdish Sunnis and Shias, who regard the Yazidis as “devil worshippers”, although they are monothiests.

The YBS, Iraqi military and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia forces retreated when Islamic State fighters, who had swept from Syria into Iraq in mid-2014, captured Mosul, attacked Sinjar, slaughtered an estimated 3,000-5,000 Yazidi men, and kidnapped and enslaved 7,000 Yazidi women and children. In 2014-17, the YBS joined Shia militias and the Iraqi army in the battle against Isis.

Since then Turkey, determined to crush the PKK and its offshoots, has exerted pressure on Baghdad to eliminate the YBS as well as the PKK-connected, US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

In 2020, Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional authorities reached an agreement to co-manage Sinjar. A provision stipulating that non-federal armed forces should exit the province was not implemented until the current Iraqi army offensive began.

Iraqi military joint operations spokesman Maj Gen Tahsin al-Khafaji told the Alahed website that the Iraqi army would not allow any “armed manifestations” in Sinjar and called for the YBS to withdraw.

YBS commander Xebat Ereb stated, “We are ready for any possible attack on the region. We are defending ourselves,” the Kurdish ANF news site reported.

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